The Kansas City Royals added to one of the best farm systems in baseball Saturday, signing 16-year-old Elier Hernandez of the Dominican Republic for $3.05 million on the first day of the international signing period Saturday.
The dollar amount is the highest total the Royals have ever paid for an international player and is the third-highest ever for an amateur international player, being eclipsed only by Michael Ynoa ($4.25 million by A’s in 2008) and Miguel Sano ($3.15 by Twins in 2009).
Hernandez, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound outfielder, is generally viewed as one of the top two prospects in this international class. This is the scouting report from Baseball America’s Ben Badler:
Hernandez, a 16-year-old out of San Cristobal who plays in the International Prospect League and trains with Amaurys Nina, has some of the best bat speed in Latin America. He’s strong but not bulky. He has the potential to hit for above-average power, but for now he has a level, line-drive swing. Though he doesn’t do it in batting practice, Hernandez has a tendency to leak open with his front knee and open up his hips too early in games. He sets up with his hands high and far away from his body, which creates some length in his swing, but that should be correctable. Scouts are mixed on Hernandez’s pitch recognition. Though he’s a good athlete, Hernandez is an average runner and projects as a corner outfielder, with enough arm strength to play right field. Many scouts see him as a high-risk, high-reward player. “If the hitting comes,” said one international scouting director, “he’s a superstar.”
If the Royals can now sign their first-round pick in the MLB Draft this year, five-tool center fielder Bubba Starling, then Kansas City wll have two high-ceiling bats at the lower levels of the farm system. That is important for two reasons. First, it’s good to keep the system stocked as the older players, such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and so on, graduate to the majors so that instead of the team having a short window for success, they can have a long string of success. For example, the Tampa Bay Rays’ deep minor-league system allows them to lose players such as Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Matt Garza and still be in contention for a playoff spot because they just bring up another wave of top prospects from the minor leagues.
The second reason it is important is to have trade chips if the time comes when the Royals feel they are one player away from being a championship-level team. While Hosmer and Moustakas are playing at a high-level on the major-league team, players like Hernandez and Starling could be used in a few years to bring a big-time trade piece that could get the Royals back to the playoffs and ultimately the World Series for the first time since 1985.
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Written by Ryan Riordan